Pro-hunt campaigners yesterday pledged to continue their fight to overturn the government ban on hunting with dogs, promising they would take their battle to the European courts if they failed through legal avenues in this country.The promise followed a court of appeal ruling that found the ban in England and Wales was a "legitimate and proportionate" exercise of powers and that it neither breached the European Convention on Human Rights nor broke European Union trade and employment laws.
The Countryside Alliance and other campaigners are fighting the 2004 Hunting Act which prohibits fox hunting, deer hunting and hare coursing using dogs. Hunts have continued to meet, with packs instead chasing trails laid in advance by people or trying to exploit what they see as loopholes such as using birds of prey to chase quarry if it is flushed out by dogs.
The alliance claims the "divisive" legislation is a long-term threat to thousands who earn their living from hunting, but three appeal court judges - master of the rolls, Sir Anthony Clarke, Lord Justice Brooke and Lord Justice Buxton - upheld a high court ruling that the ban was lawful. In a written ruling they said "it is not disputed that all of the types of hunting that are banned by the Hunting Act are seen by those who participate in them as a valuable form of sport and recreation".
But the law had been introduced to prevent or reduce suffering to wild mammals, on the basis it was "unethical" to cause suffering for sport.
The judges rejected the claim that hunters' right to peaceful assembly and freedom of association had been infringed as they could continue to meet "although they are prohibited from certain activities". Neither did the ban breach a right to peaceful enjoyment of personal property, or infringe the free movement of goods and workers under EU law.
Pro-hunters have been allowed to take the case to the House of Lords.